GOOD QUESTION: WHEN IS ENOUGH REALLY ENOUGH?

Q:

“I love my work even though I put in 10-hour days, monitor my blackberry for weekend and evening calls that usually require follow-up, and have never taken a vacation that involved being totally unavailable. I am—and have always been—fine with that. My doctor is not.
Recently I started having trouble sleeping and developed headaches almost daily. I go to work tired and pop a few Advil throughout the day. When I started getting winded after short walks and experienced chest pains for no reason, that’s when I saw the doctor. There’s nothing wrong with me except my lifestyle.
I’ve taken control of what I can—cook more, take-out less; exercise early in the morning before work; and took the television out of my bedroom too. The symptoms aren’t going away. I’ve gone back to the doctor and the message is the same: the way I work isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. If I keep this up, something will go seriously wrong, that’s what my body is apparently telling me.
Here’s the problem: My job requires this level of dedication; my boss puts in longer hours than I do; the people who report to me are under pressure too. How do I make the case that my workload and way of working aren’t tenable without losing my job? How do I achieve a work-life balance?”

A:

My initial reaction is that you’re in the wrong job, period.

Some expectations come from you and some come from the job, and until you manage your need to control, and for perfection, the anxiety and stress will never go away. This is as much about your own desires as it is about the expectation of your workplace.

At some point, you have to accept that’s the reality of your work—late nights, no vacation, etc. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is. The job you’re in might actually require commitment and energy that you don’t have. My advice would be: go find another job, not go talk to your boss.

However, if talking to your boss lowers your stress, then awesome—you should do that. But I don’t think it will because you’re putting the blame for your challenge on your job instead of on yourself, and you are responsible for your own choices.

As an employer, I have an expectation that people will work hard and do their job. But if someone said to me: “I can’t work as hard as you do, but I will give it my best,” then I’m ok with that. How can I expect anyone who works for me to work as hard as me? It’s my company. Most entrepreneurs understand that.

But here’s why I think your work’s not your problem: People often take a job because it’s going to be good for their career, not because it’s best for them. Sometimes we make a career move that’s not a great choice for our talents and abilities, and it becomes a trap: we get overwhelmed by the requirements, but we get the salary, the position, the authority. It’s all great except that we hate it, or it causes us stress. In this case, you love the work, but you have the stress.

If there’s a physical manifestation of stress—even though you went and changed stuff, like eating better, sleeping more, etc.—then this is not a lifestyle issue, it’s a career issue. So go find what makes you happy. That’s easy for me to say, right? Because quitting means giving up security…but this is your health and nothing is worth that, is it?

If there’s an expectation to work this way, then you need to make a decision. It’s all about choices and, ultimately, if it comes down to your health, screw it. Nothing’s worth that.